HEAVENER, Okla. -- In the rugged Ouachita Mountains stretching over western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma, a pickup truck -- often caked with trail mud and packed with gear for camping and hunting -- dominates as the preferred choice for backwoods transport.
Proving the point, the parking lot around a mini-mart along U. S. 259 at Heavener is littered with pickups when we pull in to refuel a Raider, the mid-size truck from Mitsubishi of Japan.
Our Raider is also splattered with mud off the trail and its back bed is loaded with camping gear concealed below a tarp stretched tautly from rail to rail.
The cab, with four full-size doors instead of the typical truck's two, also concealed the contents, which happened to be seats inside for five in a space that seems more akin to the cabin of a sport utility wagon than a work-horse pickup.
And the exterior package of our truck looks different from the lot: Raider's sleek and distinctive styling features sharply chiseled forms in strong geometric shapes with undulating slabs around wheel wells forging step-side fenders and the face fitted with an imposing split-port grille that's interrupted at the center spot by a triangle containing the tri-leaf emblem of Mitsubishi.
Flanking the center grille are oversized headlamp clusters on the front corners, as a fat-lip fascia underscores the face.
Colors for grille and fascia vary with trim.
The Raider nameplate traces back several decades to a compact-class sport utility vehicle badged by Dodge but built in Japan by Mitsubishi.
Now the Rader nameplate applies to this mid-size truck that's badged by Mitsubishi but actually built in the United States by Dodge at Chrysler's Detroit truck plant.
Raider as a truck for Mitsubishi borrows chassis and powertrains from the Dodge Dakota but brings its own classy designs for exterior sheetmetal and cab appointments.
For the issues of 2008, it lists a V6 engine for two-wheel-drive (2WD) or four-wheel-drive (4WD) traction and a single trim designation -- Raider LS V6.
Raider also presents two different cab formats.
The Extended Cab contains two rows of seats for four and two rear-hinged access doors.
In back, the pair of individual seats fits a full-size adult, but seat cushions fold away when not needed for passengers and the area behind front seats converts into a storage bay with 30 cubic feet of space.
The Double Cab has four full-size doors and conventional seats for five with front buckets and a bench-style backseat.
The bench in a Double Cab Raider makes room for up to three adults and the seatback tips rearward at a slight angle so riders may sit comfortably with ample room for heads and legs.
A truck box behind the cab varies in length.
Raider Extended Cab has a long-bed design stretching to 78 inches, while the Double Cab uses an abbreviated bed measuring 64 inches long.
With the two cab-bed formats Raider has a generous wheelbase of 131.3 inches, which sets up a surprisingly smooth ride quality for a truck.
Raider's ladder-style frame -- hydroformed and fully boxed -- is rigid to reduce squeaks and vibrations.
The suspension configuration -- coil-over-shock up front with link-type stabilizer bar and a live axle in back with multi-leaf longitudinal springs and staggered gas-pressure shocks -- brings responsive handling traits.
A rack and pinion steering mechanism -- not a common component for a truck -- feels crisp and precise despite the addition of power assistance.
Raider also benefits from reasonable overall body length (about 18 feet long) when compared against a full-size truck. That advantage of having several less feet of steel to move around in traffic makes a big difference in terms of maneuverability and practicality.
Brakes with front discs and rear drums come with power assistance plus standard anti-lock brake system (ABS) for the rear wheels, with optional four-wheel ABS that adds electronic brake force distribution (EBD).
Frontal air bags for front-seat riders are also standard, with optional curtain-style side air bags concealed above windows for both rows of seats.
More choices come with engine and transmission, plus traction mode.
Raider's V6 displaces 3.7 liters and runs up to 210 hp at 5200 rpm with torque numbers climbing as high as 235 lb-ft at 3600 rpm.
A sweet Getrag 238 manual six-speed transmission is standard for the V6, with a four-speed Chrysler automatic (42RLE) optional.
Pick the 4WD package for off-road forays or the 2WD mode for trailer-haul chores.
The 4WD rig is an on-demand system with 2WD plus 4WD high and 4WD low-gear settings.
Raider LS V6 Extended Cab comes with 16-inch steel wheels and cabin appointments like air conditioning, a tachometer, the rear-access doors, variable intermittent wipers, a front bench seat split 40/20/40, several power outlets and multiple cupholders, plus an audio kit with AM/FM/CD player.
Raider LS V6 Extended Cab with a Power and Convenience Package applied scores power controls for windows and door locks and exterior mirrors, a keyless entry system, cruise control, a body-colored front bumper with foglamps, and seats for the second row.
Raider LS V6 Double Cab contains all of the appointments in the Power and Convenience Package as well as 16-inch aluminum wheels with P265/70R16 Wrangler tires, a tilting steering wheel, folding rear seatback with 60/40 split, and an audio kit with AM/FM/CD/MP3 player and four speakers.
For Double Cab, the Extra Value Package adds side steps, bed rail protectors and a bed liner, door sill scuff plates, mud guards, a bright tailpipe tip and wheel locks.
Mitsubishi's price chart for Raider of 2008 begins at $19,990 for the Raider LS V6 Extended Cab 2WD with a manual shifter, or $23,090 with the automatic transmission aboard.
Description: Mid-size 4-door pickup
Model options: Raider LS V6
Cab options: Extended Cab, Double Cab
Wheelbase: 131.3 inches
Overall length: 218.5 inches
Cargo box length: 78.0 inches, 64.0 inches
Engine size: SOHC 3.7-L V6
Transmissions/speeds: Manual/6/Getrag 238, Auto/4/42RLE
Rear/front drive: 2WD/rear, 4WD
Steering: Power rack and pinion
Braking: Power disc/drum, rear ABS, opt. ABS/EBD
Air bags: 2 (front), + opt. 4 (side curtain)
EPA mileage est. city/hwy.: V6 M/6 2WD: 16/22 mpg, V6 A/4 2WD: 17/22 mpg, V6 A/4 4WD: 15/19 mpg
MSRP range est.: $ 19,980 to $ 28,280